Join Chris Nodder for an in-depth discussion in this video Turning questions into tasks, part of UX Foundations: Usability Testing.
- Once we understand what questions we have, we need to turn those into tasks that participants can perform for us. Remember, because we are doing behavioral research, we're using these tasks as a way of getting people to show us how they behave in certain circumstances. In turn, that behavior, answers our questions. Because the tasks are written down for the participant to read out loud, it's best to keep the instructions quite short. Normally, we do this by making the task quite broad.
We don't want to give step-by-step directions, because that would just lead participants through the process, and we wouldn't learn much from them. Instead, it's normally best to set a scene where you describe the output you want or the end result you're looking for. That way, participants can choose their own method to get to the end result, without feeling like they're being guided through. This type of task is called an exploratory task. A typical exploratory task on a travel website might be: You want to book a three-day trip to Seattle for two people, any time in June.
Your travel dates are flexible. Your budget is $1,500 for travel and accommodation. Use this site to find a suitable option. You can see how there are multiple ways that somebody could complete this task. Each thing they do, each exploration, tells us something about how people try to perform the task, and whether the site meets their expectations. There are some times when you might want participants to use a specific piece of the application, or to take a certain route through your site.
For instance, you might have a prototype that only has a couple of working task flows. Or, you might know from weblog information that there's a problem with a specific area, and now you want to see people using that area in order to work out why the problem occurs. In those situations, we use directed tasks instead. Rather than giving broad end goals, we instead say where we want someone to start and what we want them to achieve. As an example, on the same travel website we might say: Use the flexible flight feature to find the cheapest flight from LA to Seattle during the second week of June.
By telling our participants exactly where to start, we aren't getting much realistic behavior, but we're ensuring they use the feature we care about. Another type of question is one that we typically only use once during a session, when people first see the interface they'll be working with. This is when we ask first impression questions. This type of question is just what it sounds like. It's a way of seeing what parts of the interface jump out at people, and what they think they can do with the product.
Typically, we ask people this question as soon as they've opened an app, or navigated to a web page. If their answers are different to our expectations, it suggests that our marketing messaging, or our interface, isn't getting across the key elements of the product. During a study, we normally start with a first impressions task, then move on to some exploratory tasks, before finishing with some directed tasks if we needed to. The beauty of a first impressions task is that there are no right or wrong answers.
So, even if the participant is nervous when they start off, we lead them in with a task they can't possibly have problems with. That sets the scene for the rest of the study. Exploratory tasks often take some time to complete, just because of their open nature. However, they are good at giving people an overview of the product they're working with. So, assuming that the task is realistic, this is very much in keeping with how your users might work with the product in real life. The directed tasks, if you use them, are normally better done after somebody has familiarized themselves with the whole product.
So, running them after an exploratory task or two gives people a chance to get up to speed before being taken down a particular route. Using first impression, exploratory, and directed tasks will allow you to get greater insight to your participant's behavior.
- What is usability testing?
- Finding the right participants
- Making a screener
- Asking the right questions
- Avoiding bias
- Making a task list
- Creating the test environment
- Running a pilot study
- Moderating sessions
- Capturing real-time observations
- Analyzing and reporting your results